Ever since I saw him in Pensacola, Florida, the other week, Donald J. Trump will not leave me alone. Each morning I wake up, turn on my phone and find more messages sent overnight. On just one morning this week I rolled over to find emails from him titled ‘Chaos’, ‘Rigged’ and ‘We’re gaining momentum’. Another said ‘The left hates you, Douglas’. He doesn’t know the half of it.
Clearly my email has been shared. Because in just one morning I also got emails from Mike Pence (‘We’re closer than ever’), Eric Trump and bewilderingly — for I cannot see what fresh constituency she brings — Eric’s wife, Lara. Perhaps I shouldn’t have handed over all my contact details when signing up for the Pensacola rally. I feel like one of those early users of the internet who actually responded to the Nigerian emailers offering part-ownership in a diamond mine.
Anyhow, even if you don’t receive his emails, you might have guessed by the desperation that Donald Trump has lost the election. ‘Let’s finish this thing’ is one of this morning’s emails. Yet it seems to me that the thing is finished already, with America now having to pull off the most difficult imaginable set of juggling tricks.
The first thing to juggle is the fact that there is plenty of evidence of electoral fraud. In the US, the public are right to fear that mail-in ballots in particular are a positive invitation to electoral malpractice. Of course right now no Democrat in America will concede that there is, or ever has been, any fraud in the US electoral system. The fact that these same people spent the past four years claiming that the Russians rigged the 2016 election — while never providing any proof for their claim — makes this an especially tricky juggle. After four years of undermining the US electoral system they must now insist that it is so water-tight that no ballot could ever be incorrectly accounted for. I suspect they will manage it, with the level of integrity one has come to expect from the Democratic party.
Still, the trick that Trump and his team must pull off is the harder one, because it is more urgent. They must show that the corruption in the US voting system is so vast and consistent that rather than a few counties potentially flipping on appeal, whole states currently called for Biden will reverse and go to Trump, who as a result will retain the presidency.
They have not so far produced such evidence, and as the days drag on it seems likely that they do not have it. Over the past two weeks I’d have said that the possibility of the election outcome reversing has gone from a just-about double-digit percentage chance to a post-decimal point one. The President’s loyalists assure me that what they have is good, that it is going to go all the way, that the Supreme Court may get involved and that this body will rule in the President’s favor. I think this has become a pipe dream, and forgets (though this shouldn’t necessarily be a factor) that were it to happen the radical left would burn the United States to the ground.
Yet underneath all these disagreements a larger problem can be discerned. I suspect that after spreading enough of the ‘rigged’ narrative around Trump will eventually be persuaded to leave office with the kind of grace and good nature that we have come to expect from him. He will have his own narrative to draw on, just as the Democrats will have theirs.
Presently more than eight out of 10 Americans who voted for Trump believe that this election was rigged and that Joe Biden is not the legitimate president-elect. There are people who will deprecate that fact. But if they do then they should also deprecate all those Hillary Clinton voters — including Clinton herself — who spent four years refusing to accept the result of the last presidential election.
The cop-out at this stage is for people to lament the divided media in America and blame them for this pass. And it is true that the US media is partisan in a way which would shock viewers overseas. In fact American media simply has a bias balance. Complaints about it tend to presume that if media-bias is going to go in any direction it should always and only be leftwards. Fox News is forever trotted out and blamed for exacerbating partisanship in US politics. But such critics are, among other things, wildly out of date. Many Trump voters now loathe Fox News, blame it for calling Arizona for Biden early and otherwise view it as some kind of left-wing sell-out. Into which gap post-presidency Trump will enter with Trump TV.
But all this misses the deeper point. As millions of rows in millions of homes over recent months can attest, the trouble in America is not that people absorb different information streams. The problem is that they now see the same events but disagree on what they have just seen.
The trend has been growing for years and is not confined to America. It is a by-product of the information age. Two years ago the Chancellor of Germany and the head of the country’s BfV domestic intelligence service disagreed publicly on what a video leaked from an anonymous Twitter account showed. The disagreement led to the departure of the BfV leader, and up until then it was probably the highest-level example of a disagreement over the nature of what two people had seen with their own eyes. The 2020 US presidential election is this on a far bigger, even more catastrophic scale.
There are ways to fix this, not least by trying to agree on one thing and then going from there. For example, the incoming administration could set up a cross-party or non-partisan review into voter fraud, seeking to get to the bottom of exactly what the vulnerabilities in the system might be.
I don’t expect them to do so, though. Instead the Republicans will play the Democrats back in kind, starting an investigation and eventual impeachment of Joe Biden. Disagreements on what sort of country you should be are one thing. An inability to agree on what you have just seen, however, takes you into a new reality entirely.